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Local officials say Exit 155 needs both state and federal dollars

MORGANTOWN — Call it the Cadillac of problems. 

In 2019, the state of West Virginia said it was committing $66 million to reconfigure I-79 Exit 155. 

Working with the county and developer WestRidge, the state said the new interchange would be constructed in a divergent diamond configuration with a westbound flyover and new bridges over Chaplin Hill Road. 

Last month, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation had awarded $54.3 million for, according to the DOT’s project description, a lot of the same work. 

So, is there really $120 million coming to address Exit 155? If so, who’s paying for what? 

The answer to the first question, according to Monongalia County Commissioner Jeff Arnett, is yes. 

Arnett and Commission President Sean Sikora were part of a Jan. 19 meeting with West Virginia Secretary of Transportation Jimmy Wriston. 

“At the end of the meeting, the secretary indicated they were fully committed to the $66 million for the project,” Arnett said. “At the end of the meeting, Wriston said three or four times he was fully committed to the $66 million. ‘You’re going to get your $66 million. I commit to the $66 million.’” 

As for the second question, that remains up in the air. 

The official name of the project, according to the feds, is Chaplin Hill Gateway. 

While the $54.3 million coming to Monongalia County was one of only 11 National Infrastructure Project Assistance (Mega) grants awarded nationwide, it’s about half of what the county requested. 

The actual grant request was for just over $110 million. 

According to the award declaration provided to stakeholders, “The project has multiple components including replacing I‐79 bridges over Chaplin Hill Road, reconstructing exit 155 interchange, [westbound] I‐79 flyover reconstruction, and a pedestrian and bicycle connection between the Star City bridge and the regional rail‐to‐trail network. The awarded project scope does not include an ineligible component proposed in the application.” 

By process of elimination, it stands to reason the “ineligible component” is the widening of Chaplin Hill Road and pedestrian infrastructure between the exit and Mylan Park, which was part of the county’s proposal when it first applied for $95 million in federal support for the project in 2022. 

The Dominion Post reached out to the West Virginia Division of Highways to ask if the state was still committed to the full $66 million and if the state would shift its funding to pay for parts of the expanded project not covered by the federal grant, but did not get a response in time for this report. 

Either way, Ryan Lynch with WestRidge said trying to coordinate multiple funding sources for a much-needed improvement to Morgantown’s front door is a good problem to have. 

He said the federal grant, which was made public in December but officially announced last week, is exciting news for everyone who lives in, and travels to, Morgantown. 

“This achievement marks a significant step forward in achieving the local vision to transform Exit 155 and surrounding corridor into a prominent gateway for our local community,” Lynch said in an email. “We would like to thank and congratulate the County Commission, Governor Justice, Senator Manchin, Senator Capito, and all of the other public and private partners which helped Mon County secure just one of eleven Mega project awards nationwide.”